Expensive Camera Anxiety
May 27, 2005 8:09 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to get one of those nice Nikon d50s when they come out. The problem is, I'm completely freaked out at the notion of carrying around a thousand dollars around my neck for fear of getting mugged, or stolen. I'll be moving to Miami in a month and living in an urban area too. And the camera isn't worth it if I leave it at home. Are these fears justified? Am I just freaking out? Any tips on how to make myself less of a target? I'd like to have the camera with me on a fairly occasional basis.

I'm pretty used to living in generally low-crime non-urban areas. I'll be living in South Beach, and I'll pretty much be walking to a lot of places. I've never lived in a true urban environment, always in suburbs where I had to drive where I needed to go. The thought occured to me the other day that I'm practically a mugger's bonanza: I like carrying my Apple Powerbook to cafes, sometimes I have an iPod on me, sometimes with a Palm. Add a $1k camera to that? ha! Should I really be freaking out about this? Do people in urban city areas carry around this kind of stuff?
posted by Stan Chin to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (25 answers total)
(I guess the real question is, do people still get mugged? I don't know, I can only think of Charles Bronson movies regarding the subject.)
posted by Stan Chin at 8:22 PM on May 27, 2005

Here in NY I'm pretty comfortable walking around with powerbooks and ipods and nikons d100 on me. I've even used them in the subway. All three, just not at the same time.

Of course, the usual disclaimer always applies. Be conscious about your surroundings, don't be overconfident, don't walk through that dark, narrow alley after 9pm, etc, etc, etc.

But the best advice would be "try not to look like a tourist".
posted by sd at 8:28 PM on May 27, 2005

Perhaps the best alternative would be to carry around your gadgets *and* a shotgun or something :-) . Actually, what I do is monitor the local police station's crime blotters; when there is a pattern of crime for a week, I wait until the police have caught suspects before I carry my laptop with me. It probably doesn't do much, but it makes me feel better.
posted by michaelkuznet at 8:40 PM on May 27, 2005

I have a few tactics to deal with living in an urban area and keeping my fancy things safe:
1.) Back up! That way if your laptop gets stolen you haven't lost your whole life too. I learned this the hard way.
2.) Ration yourself. I choose camera OR ipod on forays into sketchy parts of town, but not both. That way, if I got mugged, I wouldn't have the heartbreak of having lost BOTH of my life's loves in one fell swoop.
3.) Conceal and carry. I tote my things in a normal-looking backpack that doesn't scream "laptop within! Mug me!" Get a bag for your camera that doesn't look like a camera bag.

That's about it. You'll adjust to being more street-smart and cautious. The anxiety will subside. You could also get renters' insurance or its equivalent which might cover replacement costs of your goodies if you get robbed.
posted by bonheur at 8:48 PM on May 27, 2005

I'd be surprised if opportunistic street theives knew the difference between a $1000 DSLR and an old mechanical SLR bought at a yard sale. If you need to freak out, freak out because you have a camera, not because it's a $1000 camera.

For what it's worth, I used to wander about all over the less salubrious parts of London with a camera. Got me into some interesting conversations, but never got me mugged. The only time I was mugged was on the way to the late-night laundromat, the guy tried to steal my bag of dirty laundry, but tripped over, dropped it and left me picking my undies up off the sidewalk.
posted by normy at 8:48 PM on May 27, 2005

if you're gonna carry around expensive equipment, don't carry it in a bag or other receptacle that advertises or makes obvious what the contents are.

a camera bag with a giant "NIKON" or "CANON" logo or a satchel with a giant "APPLE" logo on the side is the worst thing you could do for yourself. mugging aside, if you leave it somewhere (like on a train), you will never see it again.
posted by Ziggy Zaga at 8:53 PM on May 27, 2005

Two friends, one in SF and one in NYC, have gotten mugged within the last couple weeks. And I'm not what you'd call a popular guy. People carry expensive stuff around, and they get mugged. Be careful.

I suppose you could work out a lot, or learn martial arts, or try to dress like a poor person or a lunatic or something. I'm not sure how much any of these things would really help.
posted by box at 9:06 PM on May 27, 2005

I've carried my D70 around all over San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver, and three South American countries. I carry it in an obvious camera bag or hanging on my neck on the included strap that says Nikon in big yellow letters. I've never had any trouble about it. But then, I've lived in some sketchy neighborhoods and never been mugged either, so maybe I just don't look like a good target.

If you're really nervous about it, consider getting an insurance policy. I have a rider on my renter's policy that costs $30/yr and covers my camera and all of the lenses, memory cards, and so forth. I have it because I'm afraid of dropping the camera, but it covers theft too.
posted by aneel at 9:22 PM on May 27, 2005

A homeowners or renters policy will, in many instances, cover the theft of your equipment. There's all kinds of stipulations and the benefit will depend on your deductible. Here's an article from photo.net about camera insurance.
posted by undertone at 9:32 PM on May 27, 2005

Aneel - Better check that insurance policy. They don't usually cover dropped items. Just casualty loss (fire, earthquake) and theft.
posted by Carbolic at 9:47 PM on May 27, 2005

I've never lived in a true urban environment [...] I like carrying my Apple Powerbook [...] an iPod [...] sometimes with a Palm. Add a $1k camera to that...

Should I really be freaking out about this?

Freaking out? No. Extremely cautious? Absolutely. The nice thing about cities is that there are lots of people around you, so you don't have to worry if you're just walking down Main St. at noon. But as it goes in cities, avoid places where you'll be alone and you should be relatively safe.

Still, for street photography, I'd rather shoot with a cheap (expendable) film camera. Get a lightweight strap, and learn how to carry a camera while walking comfortably. Get insurance if you want to play it safe.

That said, I remember the first time I went globetrotting--I brought along my most expensive glass and lugged it around, much to the consternation of my mother, who suggested I leave the expensive stuff at home. To which I replied: what good will it do me there?

You shelled out all that money for a camera, don't let your fear of losing it prevent you from using it. Because then it might as well be stolen.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 9:48 PM on May 27, 2005

Don't be conscious of your camera. If I'm travelling in an urban area I prefer to sling it at my hip either uncased or in a small case. It hangs naturally behind my body. I kind of forget it's there which makes it less noticeable to other people. The guy who's constantly reaching for his camera to see if it's still there or glancing at it is advertising that he has something somebody might want.

It also helps in general to walk confidently. Don't walk with the demeanor of a street samurai but don't look like you're scared of your own shadow either.

I'd also recommend that even if you're Bruce Lee or Mike Tyson if somebody decides to mug you give up the camera. Let your insurance cover it.
posted by substrate at 11:09 PM on May 27, 2005

I'd be surprised if opportunistic street theives knew the difference between a $1000 DSLR and an old mechanical SLR bought at a yard sale.

They do. Trust me.
posted by Jairus at 11:37 PM on May 27, 2005

I see no reason to carry it in a brand-name camera bag, I always have other stuff with me anyways.. It goes in the front pouch of my messenger bag, with a thin logo-less strap. If I have to carry a couple bodies and lenses somewhere, it's either in a black nondescript camera bag, or in a simple backpack.

I was mugged once in NYC, and when asked, said I had tools in the bag. If it was hanging around my chest, I imagine it would be gone.. but I wasn't mugged because of the bag, they wanted some quick money, in this case $20.

I lose stuff frequently, and have found that it's better to have something on me always (ideally in the same pocket/place), rather than sometimes. I've found this to be an equal or larger issue than theft. That said, I question the necessity of lugging something larger than is really necessary. Check out the Pentax *ist D(1, 2), and *ist DS it's not a d50s, but camera choice is always a balancing act.
posted by Jack Karaoke at 1:00 AM on May 28, 2005

One solution might be to also pick up something like a Canon Powershot S200 -- a decent camera, cheap (under $100 used on eBay), and very small. Once you've arrived in Miami and scoped things out, then any time you know you're going to be in a sketchy area just leave the Nikon at home and stick the S200 in your pocket. (I tend to simply palm mine, strap around wrist, and carry it tucked casually against a hip, and have never had any problems, but then as a female who likes to wander around solo I've worked at cultivating the art of public unobtrusiveness. I also live in Minneapolis, which is a somewhat safer place than Miami.)

Re: iPods, I've heard others say that the distinctive white earbuds can give muggers the "something valuable here!" signal and that you're better off replacing them. Be aware too (as you likely already know) that wearing headphones when you're out in public cuts out your main early warning system of potential hazard approaching out of your line of vision. (I sometimes see women jogging by themselves in secluded areas with headphones on, and I'm like what are they thinking??)
posted by Kat Allison at 5:22 AM on May 28, 2005

I live in Miami quasi-close to South Beach, and as long as you exercise reasonable precautions -- as listed above -- you should be fine. I walk around with tons o' gear all the time and have never had a problem on the streets.

Remember, the hoodlums are more interested in stealing cars and robbing tourists with fat wallets than people who are trying to eke out a living here. Learn your surroundings so you feel like you live here, use a backpack for your stuff instead of logo bags, back up your data and you'll be fine.

Oh, and welcome to the humidity capitol of the world!
posted by mkhall at 5:35 AM on May 28, 2005

I'd vote for the insurance as well. I live in London's East End, wear a midrange Rolex (model 16713, gold GMT Master II) and carry lots of goodies, including a G4 PowerBook, pretty much constantly.

I'm paying about 100 pounds a year on top of my contents insurance for global cover. Once insured it's really your own choice but if someone asks for my stuff unless they've got a gun nothings going without a fight.

People do still get mugged, and in the most unusual times and places. Someone went for my Rolex last November on Commercial Road at 3 O'clock in the afternoon no less! We had us one swell time but I still have the watch.

At the end of the day, it's just a possession and don't let it possess you. Insurance will give you lot's of piece of mind, not to mention someone else to bear the risk.
posted by Mutant at 6:53 AM on May 28, 2005

Well, I'm surprised by the optimism in this thread. A couple of blocks from where I live in Boston, there's a very well-populated street (in Downtown Crossing) where, every day, there are guys standing on corners whispering to passerby that they have a 'used' laptop or a 'used' digital camera. People do steal these things specifically to sell them, and when you have a big camera wrapped around you, you are a much better target than someone who may or may not have cash in their wallet for some types of thieves. It goes without saying that people who are going to steal stuff will know the difference between an expensive camera and a bad one--all they have to do is open the paper and look at the ads.

Do not carry your camera in plain view. Keep it in your bag--messenger or backpack--unless you are in a really crowded place. Even then, keep in mind that it is not unheard of at all for people to get pick-pocketed, for example, on crowded subway trains in New York, Boston, etc. Be aware that, if you have a bag, and you have taken it off and put it on the ground, someone can pick it up and run off with it (this has happened to people I know).

When I first started taking pictures I was living in DC. One day I was out in Chinatown (near what is now the MCI center) taking photographs with an old film camera; a strange, rough-looking man came up to me on the street and told me, "Put that away--it will get taken unless you're more careful." Ever since then I've been more cautious.

Personally, I make a decision when I go out: am I going to take my laptop, camera, iPod, etc., and come home during normal hours when people are out, or am I going to take much less and give myself the freedom to stay out late? There's no problem with taking your laptop to a café, but you don't want to do it if you're going to be walking home at 11pm. Right now I live in Beacon Hill in Boston--a very posh, very upscale area--and still there are armed muggings every so often in the neighborhood. The idea of scaling back is not bad--I recently received an iPod shuffle for my birthday, and am far more comfortable carrying that around than any other electronic device. I'm always amazed, by contrast, when I see people on the subway at 8pm using their laptops to work. Needless to say, all it takes is one well-timed grab-and-run to deprive you of your laptop; on the way out the door the guy can stuff it in a shopping bag. Then, unless you've gone to the effort of safeguarding all of your private information, you're a perfect target for identity theft; on that note, I caught a guy outside of my apartment going through the trash and picking out receipts the other day, and I saw another guy doing it on the subway last week.

Moral of the story: be careful when you live in a city. I love urban life and would not live any other way, but you do have to accept that, along with stuff being more expensive, you also have to pay an 'attention tax.' Just look out for yourself and don't try your luck. For myself, I find that the best way to feel confident while out and about is to have made some compromises so that you don't end up in freaky situations, e.g., walking home through a deserted city at midnight in a suit with $4,000 worth of electronics in your bag. Remember, too, that you can always take a taxi.
posted by josh at 7:49 AM on May 28, 2005

I've lived in a high crime area.

More than once, people told me I looked like a cop.

I felt vulnerable when I walked my dog at night, so I kinda went with it and got a big Mag Light to carry...
posted by drakepool at 7:56 AM on May 28, 2005

I've lived in a high-crime urban area where my primary mode of transportation was pedal. The best advice I can give you is that if you're at all worried about anybody in your surroundings, make eye contact with them as a show of awareness. Don't be challanging, or try to stare them down, just make brief eye contact and try to memorize their facial features. Most people with criminal intent don't want to prey on people who are obviously aware of their surroundings, and they certainly don't want to mug anybody who has a chance of IDing or recognizing them. Using this alone has kept me from getting jacked at least twice when I was being followed home late at night.

Also, use common sense- don't use your iPod after dark or if you're unsure of your safety, keep your hands out of your pockets, and don't let anybody get too close to you. Many thieves/muggers will try to distract you by asking you the time or trying to draw your attention to a point in the distance (both of these have been tried on me). Obviously, maintaining distance and ignoring these people is your best bet.

All said, I had no problems walking around North Philly at night, save for a few close calls that my wits got me out of. My camera was safe the whole time, as I kept it in a camera bag inside my backpack. As others have said, being aware and inconspicuous is the best way to stay safe.
posted by baphomet at 8:39 AM on May 28, 2005

My D20 goes everywhere with me and this is what I do in these kind of situations. I don't like camera bags most of the time, because I often just see a shot and want to take it real quick without having to get the camera out. Instead of wearing my camera around my neck, I often wear it "bandoleer" style so that the strap goes around my neck, across my chest, and under my arm. This way, the camera isn't swinging out every time I bend over. You can put it kind of behind your back or right at your side behind your arm. If you are wearing a jacket you can do this underneath your jacket and no one can see your camera. Also, if you're wearing the camera in this fashion it'll be a serious effort for someone to get it off of your person and I'll be fighting like hell at the same time.

When I was in the 7th grade, I was on a school trip to NYC. One night, my teacher stopped to take a picture of the Empire State Building and she almost had her camera pulled right over head while she was framing up the shot. If your wearing the camera my way, it would be a lot harder for this scenario to go down.
posted by trbrts at 9:16 AM on May 28, 2005

Insurance is indeed the key to peace of mind. The three words you want to know are "personal articles policy" or perhaps "inland floater policy" if you want to sound like you used to sell insurance. I advise against getting a rider on your homeowner's policy, because a lot of insurance companies will jack up your rates or drop you entirely if you have one or two claims on your homeowner's, and a claim under the rider would count. Your typical personal articles policy has no deductible and will cover damage (i.e. you drop the camera) as well as theft. As others have noted, it's pretty cheap (under $100 a year for a few grand). Put your laptop and other portables on it too.
posted by kindall at 11:56 AM on May 28, 2005

I second what baphomet says. I've lived in what most people consider some really sketchy places in L.A., like Adams and Crenshaw, and I've never been bothered by strangers on the street. I'm not physically intimidating (female, 5' tall), but I always give people 'the nod' and say hello to let them know that I know what's up. Never had a problem. It doesn't matter what I'm carrying. I do exercise common sense, though.
posted by kamikazegopher at 8:24 PM on May 28, 2005

Carbolic: my renter's insurance doesn't cover things like accidental damage, but the rider does. As Kindall says, it's a "personal articles" policy. My insurer would not give me the personal articles policy without a renter's policy to attach it to.
posted by aneel at 8:33 PM on May 28, 2005

Because of a design flaw, the battery latch on my Olympus digital camera broke, and I now hold it closed with duct tape. It looks like hell, but takes great pictures. You might try wrapping some tape over a part of the camera where it is visible but won't affect the operation. Maybe use a thrift store strap as well. I doubt people will steal a camera that appears difficult to fence. You can remove the tape and strap for the opera.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:59 PM on May 28, 2005

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